"Poo on you, wash your hands" or "You just peed, wash your hands"-these are some of the "gross" messages that could get students to wash their hands after their visit to the toilet, says a new study.
The revision, conducted by University of Denver (DU) Associate Professor Renee Botta, has suggested that it takes "gross" messaging to get undergraduate students to wash their hands more frequently after going to the bathroom.
For their study, researchers posted messages in the bathrooms of two DU undergraduate residence halls in fall 2007. And the messaged read something like, "Poo on you, wash your hands" or "You just peed, wash your hands," and contained vivid graphics and photos.
The messages resulted in increased hand washing among females by 26 percent and among males by 8 percent.
"Fear of spreading germs or getting sick by not washing didn't mean much to students. What got their attention was the knowledge that they might be walking around with "gross things" on their hands if they didn't wash," said Botta, the lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communications and Journalism Studies.
The researchers found that the observations in two control dorms over the same four-week period showed that hand washing decreased 2 percentage points among females and 21.5 percentage points among males.
"We tried gross messages, germ messages and you'll-get-sick messages. And the only ones that stuck was gross. We found that the 'gross factor' is what works, and we were able to increase hand washing behavior by a lot," said Assistant Director of Health Promotions Katie Dunker, one of a team of five who conducted the pilot study.
And it looks like the findings are generating interest as Universities including UC Santa Barbara, Wyoming, Colorado State and CU-Colorado Springs have asked to borrow DU's techniques in hopes of improving student hand washing behavior on their campuses.
"The relevance of the message is really, really important. You can threaten that they'll get the flu or promise a flu-free winter, but if they don't really care about that, your message is going to fall flat," said Botta.
The study was recently published in Communication in Healthcare journal.